Yesterday was the ‘World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims’ — an annual global day of observance organized by the UN to commemorate the lives of people killed in road crashes. It serves to remind us of a stark daily reality: More than 3,000 die on the world’s roads every day.

Bridget Driscoll was the first person in the world to be killed by a car. It was 1896, in London. Today, as many as 50 million people are injured or disabled by road traffic crashes every year, and more than 1.3 million people die — with more than half of these victims not even traveling in a car.

These shocking facts led the United Nations to declare 2011-2020 to be the first ‘Decade of Action for Road Safety.’ Scheduled to formally begin on May 11, 2011, “this is a unique opportunity for all of us, something we need to embrace wholeheartedly”, says Dr. Etienne Krug, director of injury prevention at the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ninety percent of road-traffic deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, the WHO says. In addition, road-traffic injuries are among the three leading causes of death for people between 5 and 44 years of age, killing more people each year than malaria. “Unless immediate and effective action is taken, road traffic injuries are predicted to become the fifth-leading cause of death in the world, resulting in an estimated 2.4 million deaths each year,” the WHO/‘Decade of Action for Road Safety’ bulletin said last year.

The cost of drunk driving

She was just 20 when she was hit by a speeding car on the outskirts of Lisbon. Sara, now aged 39, remembers feeling the ground was wet with blood and feeling that something was wrong with her left leg. She spent five days in a coma, and when she awoke, her first reaction was to touch her left leg — only the leg wasn’t there anymore. She suffered an almost complete amputation of the limb and spent six months in hospital following multiple surgeries.

The driver responsible tried to escape the scene of the crash but was stopped. It turned out he was drunk behind the wheel.